Smart research: Leveraging secondary data

Our focus at SRA is on collecting and implementing primary research strategies – but every one of those strategies have benchmarks set using secondary data! Whether it be setting quotas for sub-sample requirements on a full study, or determining the market penetration and success of recruiting for focus groups in a market, we reference quite a few community indicators when setting up our research projects.

It is the new year, and time to start writing our marketing and business plans for the year. What better time than any to share some of the published data sources we use on a daily basis when planning our research projects!

Here is one we all know; the US Census (AKA American FactFinder). Admittedly, wandering around through the census’ website can be quite intense. Quickly your datasets become too narrow, or focused, and you spend half of your time just compiling results from a variety of zipcodes in order to get a true snapshot of your market. Plus, since the census is only conducted in full every 10 years, results near the end of the decennial can be a bit out of whack. Know that the census actually collects limited demographic information beginning in 2010, and that some of the other surveys found on the fact finder (like the American Community Survey) can give you more detailed findings.

If you are looking into the education field, the National Center for Education Statistics publishes district demographic information, down to the individual school level, on its School District Demographic System. I love this tool! Interactive maps let you click on down to the specific schools you are looking for and it provides a quick top down report of the basic demographics of families and students attending each district or school.


Another tool, with somewhat limited data, but a great built in visualization tool is the Measure of America web tool from the Social Science Research Council. While I am not 100% on the reliability of data here (data is only as good as the last time it was updated), the comparative and visualization abilities of this website allow you to put together a great profile of a market area highlighting more than just your basic demographic benchmarks, but also health, education, environmental, housing, transportation, politics, and crime.

Along with these great national tools, you can often find more precise measurements from local research agencies. In Spokane, for example, we have a couple great research datasets published by local entities:

Search, bookmark, and keep these tools handy – there are dozens of others, I’ve only chosen to highlight the few datasets I find most relevant and helpful in development complex research methodologies in today’s post. Suggestions? Send them along as I am more than happy to add more sources!